Week 2 (Sep.11-15)

This week we discussed Jon Ronson’s personal essay, “The Missing Piece of the Puzzle Revealed”, which begins with the magnificent opening sentence, “This is a story about madness.”  We talked about the central theme of pattern recognition, narrative, and the search for meaning as it manifested in Ronson’s experience with the bizarre self-published book “Being or Nothingness” written by the enigmatic “Joe K”, who is later revealed to be the somewhat-unbalanced Peter Nordlund.  We considered the model of human duality which sees us as both rational and irrational, and making decisions based not only on logic and reason but also feeling and intuition.

We talked about gender roles and the influence of culture and patriarchal social models on our understanding of men and women. The 101 East, episode “South Korea’s Gender Wars” gave us a fascinating case study of a social in transition, in which outdated misogynistic ideas are lashing out against women’s empowerment in South Korea.  I then put you in sex-specific groups to work through six questions about contemporary gender issues.  You had some pretty intriguing conversation in your groups.  We then talked about the significant problem of sexism in the tech industry, and looked at two short videos that introduced the issue: one from Sky News in the UK and one from the Atlantic news magazine in the U.S. I also showed you the depressing statistics about women’s roles in the tech industry from The Economist.  We tried to figure out what exactly is going on here, and talked about sexist stereotyping and the nature of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Our week began with two TED-ED short videos: “The Ethics of Self-Driving Cars” and “The Trolley Problem”, which gave great resonance to the practical applications of the philosophical thought experiment of the Trolley Problem to modern-day problems of artificial intelligence.  The discussion about A.I. continued with Philip K. Dick’s superb 1953 short story, “The Great C,” which presented us with a homicidal sentient computer and a young man on a quest for knowledge.  We spent time unpacking parallels between Plato’s “Parable of the Cave” and “The Great C” and then I introduced another iconic ancient story, the anonymous “Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant.”  We talked about the way our society conditions us to think about the world from a particular point of view, and the challenges, even danger, of thinking outside that perspective.  Or cave, if you will.


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